Men in Black 3

Will Smith, arguably the most bankable Hollywood star in the business, returns from a near 4-year absence with Men in Black 3.  For the life of me I can’t figure out why.  This franchise began 15 years ago to huge success, but the last time we saw the duo of Agents J and K was back in Summer 2002… ten years ago.  And it was a very disappointing outing at that.  With Smith needing an established franchise to return to, the filmmakers attempt to breathe fresh air into a musty framework.  In many respects Men in Black 3 actually delivers some old school action-comedy hijinks, but generally speaking the film fails to match the energy and wit of the first installment.

Smith again plays Agent J ridding the Earth of violent extra terrestrials alongside his aging partner K (Tommy Lee Jones).  K is even more dry, stoic, and blunt than usual.  Something seems to be eating away at him and he harnesses his internal fear from J, until one morning K disappears from existence.  J can’t find him at MIB headquarters and no one seems to have any recollection that he’s been alive during the last 40 years.

Perplexed by K’s literal erasing, J discovers the malevolent plot of a one-armed alien bug named Boris (Jemaine Clement) that was captured and locked up on a lunar prison by K.  Somehow, Boris managed to escape prison, make his way to Earth, and then travel back in time to 1969 and murder K before Boris could be incarcerated.  Not only that, but this altering of time also prevents K from ever having launched an alien shielding force field around the globe that prevents otherworldly invasions.

As the bug clans enter Earth’s atmosphere for a full-scale assault to annihilate the planet, J must travel back in time to 1969 to stop Boris from altering the future and preventing K’s murder.  J teams up with the 27-year-old Agent K played by Josh Brolin, sporting a spot-on impersonation of Jones, and livening up an otherwise forgettable sequel.

Although the plot wreaks of ‘Back to the Future Part II‘ syndrome, Men in Black 3 has matured in comparison to Men in Black II.  Smith mounts the film on his shoulders and treks through some messy writing to find occasional inspired moments of humor—which for the most part surprised me.  After reading of the numerous production issues on this project, I expected nothing from this third outing.  However, I have to say this return to old school cheesy action and plotting was a bit refreshing.  Will Smith returns to a genre that suits him well and it is a great deal of fun to have him back steering a blockbuster film.

It is Brolin, however, that steals the show and makes the mediocrity of the film worth enduring.  Where Jones seems to be phoning in his 15 minutes of screen time, just as he phoned in the last installment, Brolin actually gives 110 percent and provides the audience a window into Agent K’s heart that has been sealed shut since Jones reprised his role ten years ago.  Men in Black 3 also has a ball poking fun at the 1960s and Will Smith’s character in that time period.  Does it go for broke?  No.  But Men in Black 3 is a marginally enjoyable diversion for brisk silly escapist entertainment.  You won’t love it, you won’t hate it.  And you’ll probably forget it before you can even find your neuralizer.

 

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Battleship

And now for a movie nobody asked for and not many bothered to check out this past weekend—Battleship, based on the classic popular Hasbro board game of the same name. This suffocating bass-thumping bore of a science fiction action picture has been genetically engineered by movie studio heads to replicate the look, feel, and financial success of the Transformers series.  Poor poor Director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Hancock), known for his gritty bang-bang panache, seems to have been spearheaded into steering this brain-dead hunk of junk.  Like recent box office bombs John Carter and Prince of Persia, Battleship is a franchise non-starter, not necessarily because of all the dollar signs that are flying far away from the project, but because the film is little more than a dumping ground for loud bangs, awful dialogue, poor storytelling, and flashy special effects.

As much as critics love to hate Director Michael Bay (director of the Transformers films), likely because of his box-office dominance with pure B-movie F/X-tasms, his characters typically have more life than detractors will give him credit for.  He simply lives to take destruction to the max, but at least he typically gets top talent such as Will Smith, Nicolas Cage, and Bruce Willis to do his bidding.  Bay knows what he’s doing and he has capable actors picking up the slack—a lot of the time.  Berg attempts his best Bay impression with Battleship.

The premise of the film involves a 20-something bum named Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) whose brother ends up plopping him in the Navy to shape him up.  Some time later into his service, he’s a hothead with little control and confidence captaining a Destroyer vessel at sea for Naval War Games under the hand of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson).  Shane has a military physical therapist daughter, Sam (Brooklyn Decker) that Hopper wishes to marry if only he could get the courage to ask his would-be father-in-law for his blessing.

Hopper’s in hot water after a confrontation on board the ship with another crewman, and before he gets the boot from the Navy, he must man up when extra terrestrials crash at sea in mega war vessels with the intent of erasing humanity for the usual purposes.  The invasion becomes the ultimate test of leadership for Hopper whose ship becomes trapped under an impenetrable forced field with no entrance or exit.  His crew must literally wage war on the savage aliens before more invaders arrive.

While Berg has a similar knack as Bay for gritty over-the-top action, Battleship doesn’t work partly because it was a bad idea to begin with, and partly because the skid marks on the script aren’t whited out by the actors.  Instead the filmmakers use expensive visual effects as stitches and an ear-banging sound mix as morphine all in an effort to blind our eyes and numb our brains from this bloody mess.  The aliens aren’t given a purpose, and neither are the heroes.  Contrived to the max to ensure that extra-terrestrials in mobile spacecrafts must do battle with the Navy at sea—with only the Navy to stop Earth’s enslavement—the writers wipe away any and all possibilities of other branches of military getting involved.  Why?  Because this is Battleship, that’s why.  And apparently Battleship is about any alien invasion at sea. And it’s also about stupidity, which I could forgive if the film had intended to be stupid.

This is a movie where toothpick pop star Rihanna plays a Navy officer that takes a giant alien-robot-fist to the face and walks away unscathed.  But I think Berg doesn’t take the silliness far enough and neither does his cast as they sleepwalk through their rusty dialogue in between fireballs. Someone try and tell me the movie has any ambition to exist as anything other than a board game property attempting franchise potential.  This left me wondering how it would be possible to do a sequel… Aliens invade again?  Only the Navy can stop them… again?  Even amidst wrecking-ball destruction happening in populated cities?  Doesn’t this whole intended ‘franchise’ seem doomed from that start???

I’m sure eight-year-old boys will find something to like in all this, even though the film lacks any sort of wit, charm, humor, or star charisma that elevated the just-as-bloated and corn-breaded Transformers.  But since audiences would rather be distracted by the far more entertaining Avengers and the sci-fi sequel Men in Black III, I have no doubt Battleship will sink to the memory’s ocean floor in only a few weeks time.

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The Hunger Games

This box office jaggernaut from another world has dulled Bella Swan’s newfound fangs, effectively pulverizing teenage angst and sketchy expectations to deliver a stateside phenomenon that can already be touted as 2012’s greatest success story at the movies.  Young teenage Katniss Everdeen’s fight to death has resonated with audiences in such a way that approaching the film with a critical eye at this point in the game feels a bit futile.

Based on Suzanne Collins’ immensely popular novel (the first in a trilogy), The Hunger Games catches us up in a nation known as Panem, a dystopian future arisen after the fall of commonplace civilization.  Human communities have been divided up into 12 districts that supply varying necessities for enduring survival.  Young Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), a skilled teenage archer, looks after her distant mother and helpless little sister, Prim by hunting for game (illegally) in the woods with her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

Gale and Katniss, unknowing lovebirds, ponder the idea of a life outside of a government oppressed society, but their conversation becomes interrupted as the community must gather for the annual reaping where two children (one boy, one girl) between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected to compete in a nationally televised fight to the death.  The kids’ names are thrown into a large bowl where they are drawn by a froofy hostess looking like the perfect companion to Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka.  The hostess is Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks) representing Panem authority for District 12.

Despite Katniss’ attempts to assuage her little sister’s fears of being selected for the games, silence rips through the crowd as Prim Everdeen’s name is drawn.  Katniss lunges forward to volunteer in her horrified sister’s place.  A second name, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), is chosen for the boys.  Katniss and Peeta have a shared past and rooted memories of their last interaction.  This adds to the drama of the two characters training together as partnered combatants that will eventually be forced to kill each other in a hostile arena.

A former Hunger Games champion, the drunken Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) is tasked with training the District 12 contenders.  In his limited instruction, he encourages his duo to earn the admiration of the crowd as well as wealthy sponsors that will provide assistance via gifts in the actual games.  The training and lavish experience of the capitol comprise the film’s first half leading up to Peeta and Katniss being set loose on the battlefield.

Little information is given about the status of Panem, the history of the games, and the outlook of future society.  For non-readers of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, the audience gets dropped into the world of Katniss Everdeen without any background knowledge to go on.  In some ways I appreciated this approach, and in other ways I didn’t.  The Hunger Games was always going to be a difficult novel to adapt since most of the story is comprised of Katniss’ internal thought.  That simply can’t translate well onscreen, but considering the obstacle, Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) has delivered a satisfactory young-adult thriller hinging on Jennifer Lawrence’s commanding portrayal of Katniss.

It would almost be impossible to expect an excessively grim take on the story since the novel caters to a younger crowd and a rating of PG-13 was inevitable.  That, of course, holds the film adaptation back from illuminating the horror of the plot, as well as the violence which comes along with it.  Instead the film sidesteps graphic depictions of children murdering children, dulling the violence down, and steering us into Katniss’ human journey to protect her family.

Generally speaking the film is actually rather alluring and suspenseful despite the fact that this material has been played out before.  Battle Royale, The Running Man, and even Gladiator have all focused on government-sanctioned battles to the death for populous entertainment.  Hunger Games never sets its sights too high as far as examining a culture that adopts such moral imbalance as to let the government oppress such horrors on children.  You won’t believe a word or image of this science-fiction world that Collins has assembled, but you will believe in Katniss’ struggle to survive it.  The allegory here is that we already live in a mass media culture consumed by reality television giving us open doors to human misery.  The madness will likely stop short of killing for ratings and circus costumes as ‘common’ wardrobe.  At least I can only hope so.

But I must go back to Jennifer Lawrence who delivers remarkably in the lead role.  Of course all of the hoopla has been made about what a talent she is after her Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone and her blockbuster status as the new Mystique from X-Men: First Class.  Strong female heroines come along once in a blue moon, especially in franchise form.  Lawrence brings Collins’ character to beaming light.  She’s stubborn, determined, strong, and completely family-centered.  The proposed love triangle between her, Peeta, and Gale takes a backseat to the mission at hand—survive the games, protect your family.  In fact, the movie pays little attention to all the lovey-dovey hokum to the point where even I could have used a little bit more to make that aspect of the story a tad more impacting.  Don’t expect any of the romantic fireworks or steam found in the novel.  Little of it is present here.

That doesn’t lessen this solid adaptation which Collins had a hand in supervising.  The DNA of the novel is very present here.  With impressive talent both behind the camera and in front of it, The Hunger Games is a very entertaining and very human blockbuster franchise in the making that delivers for fans and casual viewers alike. I won’t argue that Ross’s film is particularly great entertainment, but neither was the book.  In meddling with such a violent subject, the story dulls a sharpened blade, but nevertheless lends itself well to some great human drama and noteworthy suspense.  Ignore the questionable CGI dog monsters that get zapped into the arena (that fail to work in both the film and the book), and you should become thoroughly engrossed by The Hunger Games.

 

 

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Chronicle

I’m waiting for the ‘found-footage’ fad to die out.  The format has been stretched so thin that Chronicle busies itself trying to bypass the roadblock of hopping around the perspectives of different cameras circling the action.  Since the filmmakers have bolder ambitions than shaking their cameras around, I still lost myself in this fresh superhero diversion.  The film’s young director, Josh Trank, is getting a lot of buzz for his first main feature here, and for a 26-year-old filmmaker, a lot of credit is actually due.

Even though I’m not the least bit interested in the visual style, the story of Chronicle nudged me into the theater.  The film opens with high school teen Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a loner outcast locked in his bedroom with his video camera while his drunken father pounds on the door with thunderous shouts at the boy.  His father is a laid off firefighter.  His mother is bed-ridden and dying from a serious medical condition.  If Andrew has anyone on his side, it’s his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), who invites him to a party one night, despite serious objections to Andrew toting his video camera around.

Andrew has decided he wants to document his daily life on film, which is hard to imagine considering his abusive treatment at home and uninteresting social life at school.  Apparently it gives him a time-occupying outlet.  At the rave party, Matt and his friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find Andrew and request he follow them into the woods to check out a sizable hole in the ground.  Andrew’s light on his camera could help them out.  With their ears pressed to the ground, the trio hear a bass-thumping rumble coming from the hole, so they naturally decide to make a descent inside to discover what’s lurking underneath.  As they wander their way down, they stumble upon… well, something—not of this world.  It appears large, glowing, crystallized, with an alien entity inside.  The video feed flickers.  Something is happening to the boys and their noses begin to bleed heavily.

The next we see of them, their not fully aware of how they got out of the ground.  Oh, and they have telekinetic powers.  The guys starting tossing baseballs around with their minds and constructing Lego buildings.  Their abilities increase as they ‘stretch the muscle’ of their power, pulling pranks on helpless shoppers, moving parked cars across parking lots, and delivering the ultimate magic act at their school talent show.  Once the boys learn they can fly, they realize their level of invincibility. Andrew captures it all on film, but his home life and awkward social interactions begin to distance him from his new-found friends.  His tragedy unfolds over a series of events that push him further and further into darkness and alienation.

In retrospect, Chronicle could be described as simply another X-Men story.  Boys gets powers.  They use them.  One of the boys turns to the dark side.  This creates a divide.  Who will protect humanity?  Is humanity worth protecting when you’ve become a higher species, or an ‘apex predator’ as the film calls it?  Max Landis penned the script, and he admirably combines realistic high school behavior with the deeper elements that give Chronicle the authenticity (despite some glaring holes) it needs to capture our attention over a brisk 80 minutes.  The story is never as deep as it think it is, but I’m guessing that’s why the filmmakers opted for the documented footage angle.  The audience doesn’t expect layers of depth if they are witnessing the events ‘as they really occurred’.

I personally would have enjoyed the film more had the filmmakers chosen to go deeper.  This sci-fi thriller is all surface details, comical interactions, and bloated action sequences.  Don’t get me wrong—it works.  But I can’t help thinking there is a larger, grander, better movie hidden inside this ambitious little cheapie that makes the most of its budget and young talent.  Chronicle is a fun little ride featuring unrealized potential.  Young viewers will eat it up.  And while the film may be satisfactory, I wanted more.

 

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Real Steel

The writers behind Real Steel propose that boxing at some point in the next decade will become too dangerous for humans to get into a ring and punch each other.  I would assume by then the MMA will have to turn into Fight Club.  Instead audiences will become engulfed by dueling Transformer-like robots controlled by programmers outside the ring.

Following the Night at the Museum flicks, Shawn Levy directs another special-effects filled fantasy featuring a lacking father trying to rebuild a relationship with his young son.  Shedding his claws for joysticks, Hugh Jackman enters as Charlie, a down-on-his-luck former boxer looking to settle major financial debts with the wrong people by purchasing fighting bots and betting on them in low-key fights.  Complicating his lifestyle on the road is his 11-year-old son Max (Dakota Goyo).  After the sudden death of Max’s mother, Charlie has to sign over parental rights to the boy’s wealthy aunt and uncle.  Without caring anything for the boy, Charlie agrees to giving up custody for $50,000 in a secret deal with Max’s uncle.  The catch: Charlie has to agree to look after Max for the summer while his guardians are out of the country.  The stubborn father and willful son have no interest in each other, and yet have their love for boxing in common.

Charlie invests his money in a famous Japanese boxing bot that ends up getting demolished in its first fight.  Looking in junkyards for scrap parts, Max discovers an outdated sparring robot named Atom.  Max gives Atom a thorough tune-up and discovers that it has a rare shadowing feature that allows the robot to mimic his operator’s movements.  This gives Atom the ability to be trained by both Max and Charlie and store real boxing maneuvers and moves.  The father-son duo start earning quick cash as Atom proves to be a worthy opponent in the ring, scoring several unlikely wins that leads to a title shot against the undefeated world champion robot.  Max bonds with Atom, and ultimately and more importantly with his father.  Thus Charlie ends up with a comeback shot with Max while their bot fights for the title.

Levy throws Rocky, Over the Top, Transformers, and a giant bottle of syrup into the blender to deliver a film built entirely on formula and familiar beats.  I was surprised I didn’t find the film’s recipe on the back of my ticket stub.  The characters laugh on cue, cry on queue, and the movie practically invites audiences to stand up and cheer by the end credits.  But you know what?  I didn’t care.  Both Jackman and Goyo create a believable relationship onscreen making Real Steel the perfect movie for fathers and young sons, complete with impressive visual effects that have hulking metal clamoring for our entertainment.  Levy’s effects team surpasses the destructive mayhem of Michael Bay’s Transformers as far as convincing robots go.  The bots of Real Steel have weight to them.  They’re affected by gravity.  I was thoroughly impressed and believed these boxing matches even if I didn’t believe in them.  This is fantasy, and in a world of virtual gaming, any boys under 12 years of age will be loving Real Steel to the last bolt.  And I bet their fathers might have just as much fun.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

All too often it seems Hollywood has a penchant for releasing a ‘Huh? They’re really making that??’ movie.  In fact, my response to the news of a prequel to Planet of the Apes was just that.  I didn’t see the need to revisit a franchise that had laid dormant for a decade.  Of all the summer blockbusters released over the last three months, this one interested me the least.  Go figure that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of the best movies of this summer or any summer.

James Franco plays Will Rodman, a geneticist on the verge of a medical breakthrough.  He has designed a serum that has the potential to cure Alzheimer’s disease.  This venture has impassioned him as he watches his father (John Lithgow) fall victim to the illness.  After testing on apes, the research proves that the cure is functional and ready for human trials.  Unfortunately, a laboratory accident prevents potential investors of the drug from approving it.  Will’s project faces termination, as do the apes.  Unable to kill a newborn chimp, Will takes in little Caesar only to see that the drug has been genetically passed on from the chimp’s mother.  Will documents Caesar’s increased brain activity and motor functions over the course of several years.

Caesar has extraordinary capabilities.  He can write, read, use sign language, reason, and protect.  It doesn’t take long for him to realize that outside of Will’s home, the rest of society sees him as a dangerous pet—unequal to that of a human.  He feels the isolation of being an outcast and is ultimately taken by the state to a facility for apes after a violent accident.  Caesar is abused and mistreated, as are the other apes in confinement.  He sees only one solution to free his companions and stop the maltreatment of his kind.

If you thought Rise would be a noisy spectacle without a brain in its head, let me surprise you—this could be the thinking man’s movie of the season.  Directed by Rupert Wyatt, the film restores this franchise and provides an ample amount of emotion and heart to the blockbuster.  Forget about the humans onscreen—this movie is all about Caesar, an impressive digital creation of motion capture technology played by Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings fame.  Serkis gives Caesar a real performance, providing the apes a reason to become angry, impassioned, willed, and ultimately the dominant species of the planet.  Wyatt succeeds in combining a rock solid story with heartfelt drama and impressive special effects that will likely contend as the year’s best.

The film also draws up important questions about the limits of science and where we draw the line in the quest to advance medicine.  Tim Burton’s 2001 Planet of the Apes only flirted with the idea of one species being a slave to another as a matter of moral significance.  Rise dives in head-first and has the audience weigh out the pros and the cons.  Of course the film leads up to a massive ape revolution that has been showcased in the advertisements, but the writers and Wyatt make more out of this golden opportunity than a stage of destruction—they’ve given us a story of an ape fighting for his place in this world.  This left me wondering if there could be a more human film this season than Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

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Green Lantern

Let’s get one thing straight: DC Comics does NOT suck. Superman and Batman were starting to look a bit burried under a landslide of Marvel movies. Marvel Comics built its own film studio and every, single Marvel character (even the really stupid ones) had to have his or her own movie. People were starting to say that DC couldn’t hack it, or that they had Batman, but that was their only decent francise. The truth is, DC has been very much alive during Marvel’s decade of dominance at the box office. It simply stayed in the realm of animation. A TV series called Justice League ran from 2001 to 2006, and spawned a large number of hour-long movies. (By the way, Kevin Conroy’s Batman from the animated series is still going strong.) But finally, DC has had the courage to step into the
big leagues with one of their less-recognized characters.

The Green Lantern is a much maligned superhero. People are quick to dismiss him because *snort!* “His weakness is yellow! How pathetic is that?” The thing you have to remember is that Green Lantern mythology is not meant to be taken at all literally. While many superhero stories fit pretty well into the science fiction category, Green Lantern is thoroughly fantasy; it seeks to make sense only in a metaphorical or symbolic way. And while the events on screen are impossible to take seriously, they still capture the universal human experience. A good example is the GL-centrered espisode of Justice League Despero,” which takes place on another planet, but spells out the very earthly themes of  seduction by power and the spirit to resist oppression. It’s the same with this movie. Green
is the color of will. Yellow is the color of fear. As Corps General Sinestro (Mark Strong) explains, “it is fear that stops will; stops you from acting.” That’s why yellow can stop green.

This film does a really good job of bringing Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) and company to the big screen. The origin story is, of course, the necessary evil of every super hero film, and like many films this one has been criticized for being light on action. There’s some truth to that, but, to be honest, I really didn’t notice. Writer Greg Berlanti draws the audience into the story so well, and the cast (especially Reynolds) fills out their roles so well, that mind-blowing action isn’t really necessary.

One interesting development: for obvious reasons, a few years ago, DC began to think that GL creating tanks and tigers from his ring to chase the bad guys was a bit … cartoonish, and so Justice League
limited his power to creating energy shields, lasers and the like. In Green Lantern, the cartoonishness is back, with Hal whipping out gatling guns and roadsters at every turn. But the biggest surprise of all is probably that they make it work pretty well. The story centers around the Corps’ battle with an entity known as Parallax (oddly named after Hal’s eventual super-villain identity from the comics) and Hal’s struggle to be accepted by the Corps. It also has a few goodies, such as a nod to Sinestro’s inevitable slide into super-villiandom, and one absolutely priceless moment that backhands the secret identity complexes of superheroes everywhere.

So how does Green Lantern stack up? It doesn’t have the gritty reality of The Dark Knight, the heart-warming inspiration of Iron Man, or the powerful iconography of Superman Returns. But it’s still a solid adaptation of an under-rated franchise that’s worth checking out.  Incidently, so is the animated Green Lantern: First Flight. Green Lantern is clearly better than:

Electra

The Fantastic Four

The Fantastic Four 2

The Punisher

Spiderman 2

Hulk.

And probably at least as good as:

Ghostrider

Daredevil

Spiderman 3

X2: X-Men United

Iron Man 2

Wolverine

So stop knocking it. If nothing else, the color green has been proven to reduce stress, and this movie has it in spades.

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Super 8

Call it an ode to the Spielberg days of past.  Label it an homage to 70s and 80s blockbusters.  Compare it to E.T., The Goonies, and Close Encounters of the the Third Kind.  Whatever you do, remember Super 8 as more than just a nod to great movies—Super 8 is a great movie.  Oh, and if you haven’t seen it—do see it—get up and go now!  Is that ‘critical’ enough?

Yes, I flat out loved this undeniably fresh tribute to the glory days of cinema.  Producer Steven Spielberg and Director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) have ditched mayhem-induced F/X filmmaking and have instead decided to tread sacred waters: “storytelling” that utilizes F/X-filled mayhem at no expense to character development.  This is a pure bred science-fiction spectacle, and it’s impossible not to at least sink your teeth into the wonderful nostalgia.

Luckily Super 8 is more than just a plate of nostalgic reflection on old school sci-fi.  Abrams has unleashed a pet project of his centering on a group of elementary youngsters in 1979 Lillian, Ohio.  Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is trying to make a movie with his pals—a zombie outbreak short film they would like to enter into a local competition.  The boys find their sole actress and illegal chauffeur in Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning).  Joel is instantly taken with her.  Shooting the picture at a train station in the evening, the kids become engulfed in something far more terrifying than a phony zombie apocalypse.  They are caught in the middle of a disastrous train crash instigated by a mad truck driver who turns out to be the students’ science teacher.

The kids are shocked, scared, and chased off the scene by military troops.  Joel has seen more than he fully realizes.  Something escaped the rubble… something that perhaps should not have escaped.  Joel and his cohorts know a great mystery and conspiracy is taking over their small town, but how will they find out what it is, and more importantly, who will believe them?

A handful of people begin to disappear.  Pets are fleeing to the next county.  The military start to dig about the town.  Several pieces of machinery seem to get snatched away.  Electricity fades in and out.  Joel’s father Deputy Jackson Lamb takes on the burden of watching over Lillian as the sheriff has gone missing.  Little time passes before Jackson becomes as cautious and curious as his son about the sinister activity and conspiracy overtaking his home.

Abrams fills each frame with such a fond love and affection for the wonder of movies.  Super 8 overflows with memorable scenes and lovable characters that make the mystery and suspense of the plot all the more interesting.  Never once did I feel the film’s urgency to cut to action and special effects in case things became too plodding.  The reality is that Super 8 is edited to near-perfection.  The scenes have been constructed tightly and crisply.  The tension abounds and the scares thrill.  The dialogue never seeks to simply advance the plot, but instead works to penetrate and reveal the characters.  A ready supply of humor and authenticity shines through every frame as each of the young actors carry the movie.

And what about these young actors?  They would give most A-list stars a run for their money, particularly Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney.  These two happen to be dynamite actors—convincing, convicting, believable, and consistently on their game.  The film offered me a sweet little reminder that children can be just as brilliant of actors when they are the right actors under the proper direction rather than just cute faces.

As a science-fiction mystery, the film couldn’t be more entertaining.  If one is quick to dismiss this as a high-profile director’s attempt to simply replicate an idol’s bread-and-butter style of filmmaking, then so what?  Everyone sits around and complains: “They just don’t make them like they used to.”  Abrams has stepped up where other directors have shied away and delivered a movie that audiences can get wrapped up in and fall in love with.  Sure, Super 8 has obvious similarities to E.T. and several other films, but I can’t fault Abrams for wanting to rekindle a dying flame.  With this feature he has brought a heavy dose of spirit and magic back to cinema without beating audiences over the head with repetitive bass-booming action and special effects.  He kindly reminds us that is never what it’s been about.  Cinema has always been about telling good stories and utilizing the best possible resources at hand to do so.  Abrams effectively demonstrates that the soul is not lost from a megawatt blockbuster, at least not while he’s making movies.  Rather than a monster showcase giving up all details (a monster that is slowly but surely revealed), Spielberg and Abrams have us consider looking up at the sky in wonder as they do the same.  If you are going to see one movie this season, make it Super 8.

 

 

 

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